Saturday, December 08, 2018

Overoptimism on the Euston Road?


On my way back, on Wednesday, from an afternoon spent discussing the state of our trade union movement with people who think about that problem for a living, I chanced upon this article from UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis.

Dave argues, on the basis that UNISON is now the UK’s largest trade union that the Union has survived the attack on the labour movement – and won!

Since Dave takes union membership as the basis for this bold claim I have had a look at the official returns given by UNISON to the Certification Officer in recent years.

This is what they say;

Year ending 31 December
Members contributing to the General Fund (i.e. members paying subscriptions)
1,213,750
1,225,500
1,239,750
1,254,250
1,266,750
1,286,000
1,286,000
1,333,000

There is no doubt that sustaining this level of membership, given the high turnover of members and the scale of job losses in public services since 2010 is a significant achievement and UNISON activists and officers who have worked hard to keep the Union going through the recent period of austerity deserve great credit.

But the evidence simply doesn’t bear out the overblown claim that UNISON is a “growing” union. Our subscription paying membership was more than 100,000 larger at the end of 2010 than it was at the end of 2017.

Of the three other claims made in Dave’s article (“Defeating employment tribunal fees. Smashing the government’s 1% pay cap. Overturning some of the worst elements of the Trade Union Act”), the first is true, the second is laughable and the third, whilst true, was a very partial victory.

Trade unions are a vital resource for workers. Trade unionists deserve a realistic assessment of the state of our movement, not Panglossian nonsense.

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